Canadian web series Anarkali is winning hearts all over YouTube

The web series Anarkali centers on the titular protagonist, who is dumped by her fiancé two months before her wedding. In her heartbreak, Anarkali turns to friends who encourage her to move on and who support her in her navigation through the dating world.

Rakhi Mutta's web series started with a viral mime video and hasn't stopped for breath

Kiran Rai stars in web series Anarkali. (YouTube user MsMutta)

As a film lover, it can be embarrassing to admit that I am a sucker for romantic comedies. The predictable storylines make those of us who yearn for the genre's heart-warming intoxication into easy targets for cinephile snobs. This is one of the reasons that I am so excited about the romantic comedy web series Anarkali.

I can't count how many times I have laughed, sighed and cried through films such as When Harry Met Sally, Love Jones, Sleepless in Seattle, Boomerang, Never Been Kissed, Pretty Woman, Annie Hall, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Best Man…I could keep going.  When it comes to television, it's often the romantic angle that keeps me invested in contemporary sitcoms: if not for the chemistry between The Mindy Project's Mindy Lahiri and Danny Castellano or the butterfly inducing tension between Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Jake Peralta and Amy Santiago, I probably would have given up on these shows some time ago.

Enter Rakhi Mutta. Four months ago, the director, writer and producer decided to jump on the latest craze that had hit YouTube: the Mime through Time videos. Ignited by the Australian all female-comedy trio SketchShe, their pop musical odyssey through time left Mutta inspired. With the help of an iPhone and three young actresses, Mutta created her own version: the Punjabi Mime through Time…and it exploded. At the time of this writing, the YouTube video has 1,876,034 views and has been shared by media sites including the Hindustan Times, PerezHilton.com and Brown Girl Magazine.

Mutta used this video as the launching pad for Anarkali  The web series centers on the titular protagonist, who is dumped by her fiancé two months before her wedding. In her heartbreak, Anarkali turns to friends who encourage her to move on and who support her in her navigation through the dating world. Although the storyline is a familiar one, the setting provides a fresh outlook, new tensions and wonderfully distinct characters. Anarkali, played by multi-talented actress and YouTube sensation Kiran Rai (who also serves as Associate Producer for the show), lives in Brampton with her single mother. This dynamic imbues the show with a rich cultural context, ripe with the tension of traditional expectations and intergenerational divides, but with a contemporary twist. 

Based on the real life experiences of Mutta and her friends, Anarkali has apparently struck a chord. (Full disclosure: I make an appearance in one of the episodes.) Without any major press or publicity, in 3 months the series boasts over 200,000 views. Episodes have featured cameos and special appearances from other South Asian artists such as comedian and YouTube celebrity Jasmeet Singh (a.k.a. JusReign), critically acclaimed and bestselling poet Rupi Kaur and rising singer Selena Dhillon.

Through Anarkali, Mutta has tapped into a growing movement of young South Asian artists living in the Greater Toronto Area who are demanding space for their unique stories and Diasporic perspectives. Instead of pitching to mainstream media outlets in Canada, Hollywood or Bollywood, they are creating their own opportunities to simultaneously share creative work and develop their craft through platforms such as YouTube, independent publishing houses and creating intricate networks of support and collaboration. The massive social media followings boasted by artists like Rupi Kaur and JusReign indicate that they are tapping into a large audience that is hungry for these stories and perspectives.

Witnessing the rapidly growing popularity of Anarkali over the past three months has been both awe-inspiring and affirming. It shows that there are many more folks out there like me, who are hungry for romantic comedies that bring something new and fresh to the table.

The season finale for Anarkali is online now at youtube.com/msmutta. Shameless plug: Check out episode 9…you may see a familiar face.

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